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Azeri, Armenian Leaders Hold First Formal Talks

Aliev and Pashinyan agree on need for concrete steps toward Karabakh peace while offering no specifics.

2 April 2019

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has downplayed his defense minister’s assertive comments on the possibility of another war with Azerbaijan.


On Friday, as Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev were holding talks in Vienna, Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan (pictured) dismissed talk of territorial concessions as a way to resolve the three decade-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.


“As minister of defense, I declare that the formula ‘territories for peace’ will no longer exist, and we will reformulate it as ‘new war – new territories,’ ” he told a group of local Armenians in New York, writes.


The controversy threatened to swamp the mostly positive, if lukewarm, assessments of the Pashinyan-Aliev talks. In their first formal meeting since Pashinyan’s sudden rise to the premiership last year, the two leaders spoke of “taking further concrete and tangible steps in the negotiation process to find a peaceful solution to the conflict,” according to a joint statement by their foreign ministers.


Pashinyan today dismissed the “scandal” over Tonoyan’s words as “nonsense.”


“He stated that if war breaks out, our aspiration would be to win in the war. If the defense minister thinks something [different], he should not work as defense minister. This in no way impacts the peaceful settlement process, quite the contrary, it highlights the importance of the peaceful settlement process,” Armenpress quotes the prime minister as saying.


Hopes rose for a major breakthrough earlier this year after foreign ministers Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Elmar Mammadyarov agreed on the need for “concrete measures to prepare the population for peace”.


However, some commentators cautioned against taking the positive noises at face value, suggesting each side was waiting for the other to make the first compromise.


There is little indication that either side is ready to accept the guidelines of the OSCE Minsk Group for a “fair and lasting peace,” as reiterated last month by its Russian, French, and American co-chairs.


The Minsk Group has been trying to broker a lasting peace since the two sides signed a cease-fire in 1993. Some of its guidelines echo Azeri demands (“return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control”) but others seem designed to placate Yerevan, such as “a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.”



  • Tonoyan on Friday also said Armenia would improve its military readiness, saying “nothing will be conceded, [but] compromises are possible,” Azeri researcher Fuad Chiragov writes for the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor.


  • In the same publication, peace and conflict studies professor Ali Askarov of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro comments that the “contradictory messages with more pessimistic scenarios” emerging from Yerevan could reignite the conflict. Pashinyan seems to be falling back on the standard Armenian policy of relying on Russian backing in foreign and security matters.


  • No new initiatives were floated at the Pashinyan-Aliev meeting beyond a pledge to “develop a number of measures in the humanitarian field,” Eurasianet says.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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